A MultiSensory Approach to Spelling

A friend of mine asked me for help because her daughter was struggling to learn her spellings. She was trying hard each week, but only getting 1 or 2 out of 10 in her spelling tests, and it was really upsetting her.

The recommended method for learning spellings is Look Cover Write Check (First of all look at the word really carefully. Notice the shape of it – how many letters have ascenders (sticks going up like in b and h) or descenders (sticks going down like in g and p). Notice which letters make each sound (is it ee ea or ie). Close your eyes and try to see the word in your head. Now cover the word and then write it. Check it to see if you got it right) and for most children this works. However some children need to learn spellings in a different way, and my friend’s daughter was one of these.

The first thing I did was to move the spellings away from the paper. We used magnetic letters to put her words on the fridge and then we were able to move the letters in the words further away from each other and closer together to look for patterns. By doing this, we were able to see groups of letters that were the same in all of the words, double letters, and words within words (eg together is to get her).

We then practised the spellings using different media, such as scrabble tiles, different coloured chalks on paving slabs, finger paints on different coloured paper, and water squeezed out of a bottle.

We also used an alternative to Look Cover Write Check which I picked up from a trainer on a training course run by the British Dyslexia Association: Watch Trace Copy Write Check. First she watched me write the word in cursive (joined up) writing, then she traced over it, feeling how the word flowed from the pen. Cursive writing is important as it in brings in muscle-memory. As she traced the word she said it aloud, sounding out the letters. This made it a multisensory experience because it combined seeing, hearing and doing. After this she copied the word, again saying it aloud and using cursive writing. After copying the word a few times, she covered it and wrote it from memory, still saying it aloud and sounding each letter as she wrote it. Finally she checked the word to see if she had written it correctly. Another tip I picked up on the BDA course was to tick each letter in the word that is correct, even if the word as a whole is wrong. This helps to reinforce all the parts of the word that are right, before going back to Watch Trace Copy Write and Check.

We colour-coded long vowel sounds to help visualise which groups of letters make a sound. For example we wrote
ee in green: green, keen, feed, sheet, between
ea in red: mean, clean, dream, bead
ey in blue: donkey, monkey, abbey, chimney
ie in yellow: chief, relief, believe, achievement
and grouped all the same coloured words together. This meant that when she tried to picture the word in her head to write it down, the colour would stand out and help her remember which two letters she needed. It also helped us to find patterns and rules. For example we found that the sound at the beginning of a word was usually made with ea: eager, each, easy, whereas ey came at the end of the word.

Another visualisation technique we used for particularly tricky words, was to throw the word at the wall. She looked at the word on paper, noting patterns of letters etc, and then ‘picked up’ the word from the page and ‘threw’ it at the wall opposite. From then on, every time she struggled with that word she would look at the wall and still see it there. I have heard of a similar technique from a dyslexia trainer who suggested writing the word on a piece of paper and sticking it on the wall in the corner towards the ceiling. To begin with the children copied the word from here. Interestingly, even after the paper was removed, the children would still look towards that spot when trying to spell the word, and they would write it correctly.

As we all know, English isn’t a language that follows rigid rules without exceptions, and some words do have some downright awful spellings. Mnemonics can be a useful tool to aid memory (for example SAID: It’s an ‘a’ and an ‘i’, And I don’t know why) but children need to be encouraged not to rely too heavily on these. If they use them, they need to be reminded to go back to the word when they have written it, and make sure it looks right. I have seen so many posters in so many classrooms exclaiming that Big Elephants Can Always Understand Small Elephants, and I have seen so many children write the word as ‘becaule’ because they mentally substitute ‘little’ for ‘small’. If they looked at the word again they would see that the ‘l’ didn’t make sense

My friend’s daughter stopped getting 1 or 2 out of 10 and started getting 9 or 10 out of 10. She still finds spelling difficult, maybe she always will, but she has improved – a lot. Her teachers now give her praise for the amount of effort she puts in. She has strategies now to help her spell words. Spellings homework has stopped being a time for battling with nonsensical groups of letters and of tears of frustration, and started being a time for having fun with words.  She’s a lot happier and more relaxed about writing these days. And that’s why I really love my job.

For maths or English tuition in the north Birmingham, Sandwell and Walsall area visit www.sjbteaching.com.  For links to other interesting education related articles, come and Like my Facebook page.

Related post: A Multisensory Approach to Reading  Teaching the Times Tables

E is for…

E is for…E-safety. It’s fun to use the internet for chatting to your friends and it’s useful for finding information for your homework. club penguin login screenHowever it’s important to keep yourself safe when you’re online. First of all, always make sure that you keep your personal details such as address, phone number and photos, to yourself. If you use sites like Facebook, get an adult to check that you have it set up so that only your friends can see what you put on there. Never accept friend requests from people you don’t know.

Sometimes people might send you messages that make you feel hurt or upset, or post nasty things about you. This is still bullying, even if they don’t say it to you face. When things like this happen online it is called cyber-bullying. If this happens to you, the best thing to do is to ignore the comments rather than reply to them, and then to show or tell an adult.

Finally, remember that not everything you read on the internet is true. If you are trying to learn some facts then make sure you always check more than one website, or check the information in a book or with an adult to make sure that it is correct.

Related posts: D is for…  F is for…

D is for…

D is for…Displays.  In every classroom in the country there are displays on the walls. Your teachers put them there so that you can use them. They are there to help you. I have lost count of the number of children who have told me that they think using things off wall displays is cheating. It isn’t cheating. If your teachers didn’t want you to use them they would take them down or cover them up. So next time you are stuck for a wow word, or you can’t remember what “product of” means in maths – have a look at the wall displays. Your teacher will be really pleased that you did.

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A Multisensory Approach to Reading

A while ago a parent contacted me for help because her child was struggling with reading. He hadn’t picked up phonics in Reception with the rest of his class, and so now his Year 1 teacher wanted to send him back to Reception for another dose of letters and sounds.

His mother was concerned about the effect this would have on his self-esteem and also couldn’t understand how repeating a year of something that clearly hadn’t worked was going to help him move on. She asked if I had any idea for things she could work on at home with him that might help him progress.

My first thought was that if phonics lessons at school hadn’t worked at all, he was possibly a purely kinaesthetic learner. This line of reasoning was backed up by the fact that he learnt more physical activities easily: he had learned to ride his bike without stabilisers with no problems at all, and he was already quite accomplished at several sports. These were all things he would have learnt kinaesthetically. Phonics in school is taught in a visual and auditory way (see the letter, listen to the sound it makes). I know that some people claim that kinaesthetic learners are catered for because there are actions to go with the letters and sounds, but I’m a kinaesthetic learner myself and I know for a fact that tapping my arm whilst saying “a-a-a”, or holding a finger in front of my mouth to pretend I’m blowing a candle out whilst saying “b-b-b” wouldn’t have helped me to recognise either of those letters.

I suggested helping him experience the letters in a different way. He started getting to know the letters by using wooden ones (magnetic ones would do just as well) that he could pick up so he would be able to feel the shape of each letter. He explored which letters had straight edges, which had curved edges and which had sharp angles, and as he picked each one up we said together the sound the letter represented.

From there, I stayed with the idea of 3D letters but we moved on to making them. By using straws, rulers, pens, bits of string, blu-tack, sellotape, etc he was able to make his own 3D letters. With his mum he made some dough, which he fashioned into letter shapes and they baked them. Eating the letters afterwards brought in taste alongside sight, hearing and touch for a truly multi-sensory experience.

Now it was time to start relating these 3D letters to the 2D ones on the page. Again I wanted to bring in as many senses as possible so I used stencils to write out the letters on sandpaper so that he could trace his fingers over the rough surface to feel the shape of the letter. I drew big letters in chalk in his back garden so that he could walk around the shapes, and I got his mum and dad to take chalk to the park so that they could write even bigger letters for him to ride his bike round. Finally we looked at printed letters on paper. While he looked at each letter and we said the sound the letter makes, using my finger I drew the letter on his back so that he could feel the shape of it.

By the time we started looking at printed letters on the page without the additional extra-sensory support, he was so familiar with the shape of each letter that he was able to associate them with the sounds they represented without difficulty.

From then on his reading improved quickly and it wasn’t long before he caught up with the rest of his class. We avoided the knock his self-esteem would have taken by having to go down a year, and his confidence grew because he was no longer the only child in his class who couldn’t read. And that’s why I really love my job!

For maths and English tutoring in the north Birmingham, Sandwell and Walsall areas, visit www.sjbteaching.com. For links to other interesting education related articles, come and Like my Facebook page.

Related posts: Teaching the Times TablesA Multisensory Approach to Spelling  

C is for…

C is for…Connectives.  These are words which join two sentences together. Some simple ones are ‘and’ and ‘but’, but these are not very exciting.

On the wall in your classroom you will probably have a list of connectives. It’s tempting to try to use as many as you can, but it is much better to choose one or two and make sure you really know what they mean.  Your teacher will be much more impressed by two connectives used correctly, than six that don’t make sense.

One really easy connective to use correctly is ‘however’ because it’s just a posh word for ‘but’. Think of a sentence with the word ‘but’ in: I had a sore throat, but I still managed to sing in the school concert. Now swap it for ‘however’: I had a sore throat, however I still managed to sing in the school concert. Simple!

For maths and English tutoring in the north Birmingham, Sandwell and Walsall areas, visit www.sjbteaching.com

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